On our way back to Houston from San Francisco, Alex and I had some time before our early morning flight, so we stopped at an airport diner for breakfast. While we were sitting there devouring our food, a young woman -- maybe in her late 20s -- and her three children (all under the age of 7, I'd guess), made their way past our table, presumably to head to their gate.
The young mother turned around, to see another restaurant patron, an older woman, waving a cell phone at her.
"Is this your phone?"
The young mother's shoulders sagged, and she smiled gratefully. "Oh my goodness, yes," she said in heavily accented English. "Thank you so much."
The older woman smiled and handed it to her. "No worries," she said. "I've done that before. It's the worst thing, losing your phone."
The young mother took her phone, thanked her again, and went after her children.
A couple of hours later, as Alex and I were buckling our seatbelts on the flight, someone sat down next to me. At first, I couldn't place her, but then realized that she was the same mom who had lost her phone. I also noticed that her children were nowhere to be seen.
I heard some children's voices calling out through the crowd. ¿Mamá? ¿Dónde estás?
She responded to them in Spanish. "Don't worry. I'm right here. Just stay where you are. I'm not far."
The kids started crying. The young mother hadn't been able to get seats together with her children, and each child was sitting alone. She stopped a flight attendant.
"Excuse me," she said. "My children are upset because we can't sit next to each other. Can you help me?"
The flight attendant looked at me, and noticed I was traveling with my own child. "You can't move," she murmured.
"No, and I'm so sorry," I said, feeling a rush of guilt. "I wish I could help."
"No, you need to stay with your daughter," the flight attendant smiled at me. She looked at the two women sitting in front of us. "Are you guys sitting together?" she asked.
The women responded. "Yes," they said. "We're friends. We'd rather not split up."
A single woman was sitting in the aisle seat, next to them. "I can move, if it would help at all."
The flight attendant hesitated. "Well, that doesn't really help, honestly -- I need two seats together ..."
The young mother next to me interrupted. "No, it's okay -- if I sit there, my kids can see me better. They'll be calmer."
The single woman got up. "Of course," she smiled. "I mean, I'd want to be near my kids on a plane, too."
The young mother thanked her profusely, and switched seats, so that she was now sitting next to the friends who'd refused to move. The kids, each now being able to see their mom, calmed down.
I've been thinking about this young mother ever since -- marveling at how she was managing to travel alone with 3 children (traveling alone with no children is stressful enough), and thinking about how I was lucky to witness total strangers going out of their way to show her a kindness. I really hope that at the end of the day, when she arrived at her destination, and her children were in bed fast asleep, she would be able to reflect on her trip and remember the woman who switched seats with her, and the woman who called after her to let her know that she'd forgotten her phone. Because at the end of my day, those two helpful women were instrumental in giving me happy memories that I was grateful for.